Philip Brunelle, in his 41st year leading the VocalEssence chorus, is sipping coffee with his wife of 44 years, the painter Carolyn Brunelle, in their Golden Valley home of 39 years. Carolyn calls the sun-soaked house “Chez Brunelle,” a reference to the innumerable composers and other artists who have passed through or crashed here in the last half-century: Aaron Copland, Dave Brubeck, David Hockney. Several years ago, the couple built an addition to the house so they could entertain even more people, and now Carolyn runs the place with the efficiency of a small hotel. When she leaves a note for Philip, she signs it, “The Management.”
These days, given their hectic work schedules, the pair are jotting more notes than ever. On April 16, at the Groveland Gallery in Minneapolis, Carolyn debuts “Transitions,” her latest collection of paintings depicting bowls, branches, orbs, and fish. On April 30, Philip leads VocalEssence—now numbering 130 singers—in Mallets and Melodies at the St. Paul Cathedral. Do they ever collaborate? They stare at each other, thinking. “We’re pretty separate,” Philip says. When he explains that his upcoming concert will feature nearly two-dozen marimbas, Carolyn asks, “Who’s conducting that?” “Me,” Philip tells her, as if to say, “Who else is this crazy?”
That said, Carolyn sang for years in VocalEssence (“She had to audition like everyone else,” Philip says). And she has a hymn named for her at Plymouth Congregational Church, where she sings in the choir that Philip has directed for—you guessed it—41 years. “I see her in the alto section every Sunday,” Philip says. In between, he sees the Management.